Iranian students clash with Islamic hardliners
By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Scores of hardline Islamic militia, some brandishing sticks, have attacked pro-reform students at a Tehran university as they chanted slogans calling for the release of political prisoners, witnesses say.
The violence erupted on Monday when one of the speakers at a pro-reform student rally said Iranians were "paying the price of our fathers' mistakes".
The hardliners, angered by the apparent insult to the 1979 Islamic revolution that brought clerical leaders to power, attacked the podium, broke the microphone and then started punching students, beating them with sticks and spraying pepper spray in their faces.
The students fought back and at least six students and one hardliner were injured in the violence, the latest to take place during a recent wave of pro-reform protests, the witnesses said.
"Some 150 hardliners attacked the gathering and beat the students and also took away some others," Sajjad, a student leader who declined to give his second name, told Reuters.
Political tension has heightened in Iran since last month, when the country's hardline judiciary sentenced reformist academic Hashem Aghajari to death for questioning clerical rule.
The verdict, which is now under review, sparked the largest pro-reform protests seen in the Islamic Republic for over three years.
Students have staged almost daily gatherings demanding the release of political dissidents as well as major political reforms in a country where President Mohammad Khatami's efforts to improve democracy and social freedoms have been blocked by powerful conservatives at the heart of the state.
An opinion poll by the Iran Student Polling Centre published in the Etemad newspaper on Monday found that 78 percent of Tehran citizens thought Khatami should take a tougher line with his political adversaries.
The poll also found that 47.5 percent thought Khatami's reform programme would fail.
Many reformists are urging Khatami to resign if, as expected, hardliners block two bills he has proposed to curb the power of the hardline judiciary and a conservative watchdog that vets legislation and election candidates.
FREE THE DISSIDENTS, STUDENTS SAY
"Release our political prisoners" the crowd of about 1,500 reformist students chanted at the Amir Kabir technical university in central Tehran in a demonstration held to mark National Students Day.
Dozens of reformist intellectuals, academics and students have been jailed in the last three years, charged with a variety of offences, in a hardline crackdown against Khatami's allies.
Witnesses said hundreds of students from other universities, eager to join Monday's rally, had forced open the university gates. That, in turn, allowed dozens of hardline militia, known as Basij, to enter the campus.
"Hypocrites, leave the university alone," the Basij chanted.
The Basij, who acted as a volunteer army in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, now operate mostly as a plainclothes body which enforces the Islamic Republic's strict moral code and are faithful to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei, Iran's most powerful figure, warned last month that if the country's leaders could not resolve their differences he would use "popular forces" -- an apparent reference to the Basij -- to intervene.
By late afternoon on Monday, the clashes had ended and most of the students and Basij had left the university, watched by hundreds of police who had surrounded the campus.
"They beat up my friend and took him away, I do not know what to do and whom to ask," said Reza, a 22-year-old student.
Iran and the Bahai
Why Islamists Hate the Baha'i Too To quote Amil Imani, "It is imperative for the free people of the world to defend freedom of conscience, including freedom of religion, irrespective of one's own personal belief. It is for this reason that as a person who is not a Baha'i, I find it my solemn duty to speak up on behalf of a peaceful people, severely-persecuted by the savage Islamists." I agree with Amil 100%.
On Islamists: They Hanged Her for Teaching Love On 18th June 1983 ten women, one of whom was only 17 years old, were executed in Iran for teaching Baha'i children more about their Faith. They were among more than 200 individuals who were killed in Iran for being Baha'is.
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